Good update over at ESPN LA from Mark Saxon about Kenley Jansen and his rejuvenated fastball. Last season it was in the 92-95 mph range, and now it's shot up to 95-100. The reason could be a healthier offseason after needing plenty of rest the previous year because of his abnormal heartbeat scare.
Of course, that begs the question about why Jansen has blown two of the last four save opportunities, in addition to taking a loss to the Tigers last week trying to keep the score tied. One theory is that his increased velocity has resulted in a straighter cutter, which isn't exactly a good thing.
That could be true, but I think there's something else: opposing hitters know the cutter is coming, have seen it before, and are more prepared to hit it, no matter how nasty it may be.
It's tough to get on Jansen too much because he's been practically unhittable since 2010. But right now, the 39 batters he's faced have hit .343 off of him. Want to know the highest average he's surrendered in his career? Try .177 last year, the same season he collected 28 saves, a 1.88 ERA, and struck out 111.
I've said for a couple years now that as good as Jansen's hard stuff is, I do get concerned that he goes to the well way too often. Watching the Giants hit against him on Tuesday night (his second blown save), I couldn't help but think of that again. While the hits against him were a bit lucky, the bottom line is that I didn't get a sense that the guys from the Bay Area were intimidated by him, as many hitters have been in the past. It seemed like they were prepared for what was coming.
There are some interesting numbers over at Fangraphs.com that back up what Saxon was saying. All of his pitches (fastball, cutter, slider) are being thrown about 2-3 mph harder than in the past. I'm definitely not a pitching expert (I coach junior high softball, and even that confuses me), but maybe harder doesn't always equal better.
I don't think it's too late to start incorporating some softer stuff. The only other pitch he's been tracked at is a slider at 5% of the time. He hasn't been tracked throwing a changeup since 2011, and even that was barely at 2%. He's coming at you hard and often.
When thinking about other great closers in Dodgers' history, I obviously think of Eric Gagne. To compliment his 92 mph fastball, what other pitch did he rely on? A 70 mph changeup that buckled knees every game. I know that's not Jansen's thing, but it goes to show how having two reliable pitches at different speeds make you more deadly on the mound.
Maybe Jansen is about to reel off 20 straight saves and we'll forget about his April troubles. Or maybe opposing hitters will keep having success against him. I just hope he's more open to mixing in some softer stuff when he's on the mound. It can only help.